BitDepth 521 - April 25

Preparing to travel, I opt for a media enabled PDA over a laptop for inflight entertainment...
Travellin’ Man

The Core Media Player on a Palm TX is particularly impressive in full-screen view. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

I’ve got a problem. This week, I’ll be travelling for more than 24 hours in two twelve-hour stints. At least ten of those hours will be in the air and with check-in times the way they are these days, at least four and possibly six hours lounging around in airports.
If there’s one thing that travelling has taught me it’s that if you don’t want to be bored on a long flight it’s a good plan to walk with your entertainment and the longer the trip, the more varied the diversions the better.

The problem, of course, is power. Alternating current. Juice. Electrical outlets are at a premium in aircraft and generally aren’t available to passengers to recharge laptops or other electronic devices.
Here’s how my options break out.
Laptop for movies, preloaded webpages, PDF files and on the off-chance I’m feeling productive, tackling a backlog of work.
Palm PDA for movie clips, PDF files, digital short stories.
iPod for music, audio books and recorded broadcasts.

Previous experience with travelling with these devices suggests a power capacity profile that looks like this; laptop for reading, two and a half hours, movie on DVD, 90 to 100 minutes, PDA for reading, 5 hours, for movie clips, two to three hours, iPod on continuous audio playback, four hours. Mixing in a movie I might actually want to watch on the flight, sleep, and a book, I think I’m covered.
Given the additional problems of electrical outlets in Europe and my preference for travelling light, my recharge plan calls for a single powerpoint going to the laptop, with the iPod and PDA trickle charging off it overnight.

My standard strategies for preserving power on a laptop while inflight include killing the overhead light and dimming the screen right down with any files I hope to access on the disk, since a spinning optical drive consumes even more power.
By investing time in advance, I can turn selected video clips and movies into files. I like the MP4 format for movies. It offers great quality at reasonable sizes. A typical movie running for an hour and a half can be reduced to 400 pixels wide or 60 percent of a DVD’s normal width and compressed down to a 300-400MB file that offers quality roughly equivalent to a television screen. Advantages? A file that’s one-tenth the size of the full movie on DVD that consumes only the power that the spinning hard drive uses, leaving the optical drive quiet.

Now this use of intellectual property is frowned on, so you should only transfer movies you own. The software for doing the transfers must strip the copy protection off the disc to create the movie file, which is definitely illegal. A casual search of the Internet will turn up several tools that can do the job but be aware that the resulting file is in an intellectual property gray area and should only be used by the owner of the original media.
On the PDA, I’d been using Kinoma’s producer and player but you have to pay extra for widescreen playback of standard file formats. Fortunately, there’s a free player that does exactly that. The Core Media Player plays MPEG 1 and MP4 files as long as you keep the bitrate (the amount of data that plays back per second) below 900Kbps.

These MP4 files also play back just fine on a newer video-capable iPod. I use the Palm TX in widescreen mode (a very nice 380 pixels wide) to view television shows that I capture on a computer and turn into MP4 files stored on an internal 1GB Secure Digital card.
Adobe’s Acrobat for Palm converts PDF files on the PC side into reduced files readable on the PDA, but flipping between pages can be sluggish in graphics heavy files and the Palm reader doesn’t recognise the TX’s widescreen mode.
As a final touch, I’m going to give some valuable space in the shoulderbag over to full ear headphones rather than the smaller, neater portable headphones I usually use. Seven hours worth of engine noise with something clamped over my ears seems to cry out for the comfort of foam wrapped in faux leather.

Traveller’s advisory.
The Core Media Player for Palm and Windows CE <>
Audiobooks for iPod and other media players <>
Short stories and novellas for PDAs and SmartPhones <>
Acrobat Reader for mobile devices <>
MP4 converters for Mac <>, <>
MP4 converters for PC <>, <>
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